HRW urges Hollande to press Morocco on human rights

France's President Francois Hollande appears on France 2 televisio on March 28, 2013 in Paris.  By Fred Dufour (POOL/AFP/File)

France’s President Francois Hollande appears on France 2 televisio on March 28, 2013 in Paris. By Fred Dufour (POOL/AFP/File)

RABAT (AFP) – Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Francois Hollande to raise concerns about “persistent” rights abuses with Moroccan officials on his first visit to the former colony as French president.

The group highlighted the “strong human rights guarantees” affirmed in the constitution introduced by King Mohammed VI in 2011 in response to popular unrest, which “have yet to be incorporated into domestic law and government practice.”

“Hollande should raise ongoing human rights concerns in his meetings with Moroccan officials, including torture in detention, unfair military trials, restrictions on free expression rights, and the vulnerability of child domestic workers,” HRW said.

The group had said on Monday that Rabat should either free or retry 25 Sahrawi civilians handed heavy jail terms by a military court in February amid claims that their confessions were obtained through torture.

“As Morocco’s largest trade partner and bilateral assistance provider, France can play a positive role by highlighting persistent abuses and encouraging the government’s reform efforts,” said HRW’s regional director Sarah Whitson.

Hollande on Wednesday begins a two-day state visit to the north African country, where he will dine with the king, sign bilateral accords and address parliament.

The New York-based watchdog called on him to vocally support the amendment of laws imposing prison terms for non-violent speech such as defamation and insulting the monarchy, and raise concerns about other curbs on press freedom.

Moroccan rapper Mouad Belghouat, a voice of the February 20 pro-reform movement, was freed from prison on Friday week after serving a one-year sentence for defaming the police.

HRW also cited the government’s withdrawal of AFP journalist Omar Brouksy’s press accreditation last October, after a story he wrote that referred to the participation in a Tangiers by-election of candidates “close to the royal palace.”

The rights group urged the French president to pressure Morocco to end the exploitation of underaged house maids, citing the case of a teenage worker who died last week after suffering severe burns allegedly inflicted by the couple who employed her in Agadir.

“President Hollande should make clear that the strong human rights language of the 2011 constitution needs concrete action if Moroccans are actually going to enjoy greater rights,” Whitson said.